A social business with the sole purpose of empowering mankind to end global poverty, this Australian company commits 100% of its profits towards helping people in need.
by Nikhil Sreekandan
After finishing college, like most graduates, Daniel Flynn, Justine Flynn and Jarryd Burns just wanted to get a good job and make themselves financially stable. But there was something else that they were equally passionate about; social inequality and what they can do to end it. Looking around the world at some of the pressing issues, they were confronted by two statistics.
Number One: At that point of time in 2008, there was something called the world water crisis and over 900 million people did not have access to clean water.
Number Two: In Australia, where bottled water is a luxury, there is a $600m water industry.
They put the two together to come up with an idea, what if they could create a water bottle company that actually went towards eradicating the world water crisis?
Ten years later, Thankyou has grown from being a bottled water company to a social business with 50 products on-shelf, ranging from body care to hygiene and sanitation. And, some of them market-leading categories, particularly personal care products like hand soaps for which they own a bigger market share in Australia than multinational giants like Dove.
Thankyou is a real celebration of what can happen with a truly bigger purpose, something that started with tackling the water crisis, has now expanded to tackling maternal & child health issues and even sanitation & hygiene. By giving away 100% of their net profit, the company has given away $5.5mn in its lifetime to 20 countries and that’s just the beginning!
INKLINE talks to Pete Yao, the Chief Impact Officer at Thankyou as he takes us through the company’s incredible first 10 years and discusses future plans and much more.
INKLINE: 100% of the company’s profit goes to charity. Could you take us through how your business model works, like how do you scale?
Pete Yao: It is almost the question we should have thought about when we were 19 because we’ve all got big visions and dreams, not just these 50 products, we want to expand and grow. How do we do that? We can’t let anyone invest in us because we truly believe in our model – being owned a 100% by our charitable trust.
We will never have other shareholders because the moment we have investors or shareholders, we wouldn’t be able to give 100% of profit to our charitable trust.
A part of this business model, something we launched in 2016, is our future fund which is solely dedicated to serving the growth of the company and just like everything at Thankyou, it is powered by people.
We released a book, Chapter One which talked about everything we learned at Thankyou and we also charged it as a pay-what-you-want-price, so you can pay whatever amount you want, to fund Thankyou’s future. To date, we’ve raised over $2mn to help us expand and grow.
I: Was there a specific reason for expanding your product range from just bottled water to body care and baby care?
P: Going back to the reason why we started, which is to end the effects of global poverty – looking at water, we couldn’t just give someone a well without actually educating them about hygiene. So, we chose body care and personal hygiene because it fits very strongly with hygiene and sanitation.
We also have been privileged to really travel around the world and try and learn what are some of the biggest issues facing families. And, one of them which cause a lot of deaths is actually mothers being pregnant or delivering in really unsafe areas.
So, we began to look at what would it mean to create a complete product range that goes towards funding maternal child health services, that’s why we chose babycare products because we believe that no mother and baby should die in pregnancy and childbirth.
I: Could you tell us a bit about your Track Your Impact system?
P: I think in Generation Y, there’s this increasing scepticism when it comes to giving money to charity. Back when we started, a lot of our friends in University had said to us, “Why would you want to give to charity, it just goes to someone, somewhere!” We sort of used that as a motivation and driver to make this one-of-a-kind system called Track Your Impact.
What it does is, every single product at Thankyou has a unique tracker ID code and each code is linked to a current project that we are funding. You can actually log in to our website, put the code in and it provides you with all the information you need to know about the project.
It zooms into the village with GPS coordinates, goes into the actual project itself and gives an explanation about what it is – for example, a maternal child health program in Nepal which helps a 100 women to deliver safely.
The coolest part of Track Your Impact is that in 12-24 months, once the actual project has finished, you get a complete final field report which provides you with photo proof of what you’ve been able to help to fund.
I: Looking back at the last 10 years, what has been the biggest hurdle that you’ve had to cross?
P: I think for us before we launched into body care and our other product ranges, we kept getting knocked back constantly by giant supermarket retail chains like Coles and Woolworths, who basically own 75% of Australia’s supermarket business. They were like, ‘Guys, you don’t have the marketing budget and we don’t think that you have enough exposure and awareness to actually cause people to buy your products.’
It’s not that we didn’t have the budget for marketing, but we chose to spend it on our charity projects. So, yes, we knew we that we didn’t have the millions of dollars for marketing budget and television campaigns, but what we did have was an organic grassroots movement.
So, what we did to get into these big retailers was to use social media – we used the power of social media to launch a campaign on Facebook which asked the whole of Australia, ‘If you really want Thankyou products stocked in these retail giants: Coles and Woolworths, just post it on their wall!’
We launched the campaign in 2013, when we got some time given to us from the number one rated breakfast television program, and in an hour of launching the campaign we had over 2000 people writing on their Facebook walls, people ringing up, we even had helicopters flying across their headquarters with flyers that said ‘If you can stock Thankyou, you can change the world.’ – and these were all donated by people, supporters who had heard the idea and had really bought into it.
So we’ve overcome a lot of these challenges on operating in a business environment which is very traditional, very conventional and we’ve actually subverted that and that’s something very important to our story, we’ve never done things the same way that has always been done before.
I: Looking towards the future, what does Thankyou have in the pipeline?
P: We have two things. One, we will be launching our first expansion into another country in May, and that will be New Zealand. We’ve been operating in Australia for the last 10 years, and this is the first multinational venture that we’ll have and it’s very exciting. Even though New Zealand is a small country, it is one of the most generous countries in the world as well. It also gives us a testing case to see if our model can work overseas.
Second, we are looking at growing and strengthening our foundations from an operational perspective. As we keep growing, a business needs more structure, more systems, more policies – in order to ensure communication and to make sure that everybody is aligned, especially when you keep growing the staff base like we do. It’s not as glamorous as growing different product ranges but we actually think this is important.
Nikhil Sreekandan is a journalist with the desire to explore life through the stories he chases. He currently works as a content editor at Nature inFocus, India’s leading platform for nature and wildlife. When not lost in cinema, contemporary literature or his earphones — there is a genuine attempt at ‘giving chase’, and it is beautiful.